Obama created an N95 mask shortage, but the free market is coming to the rescue

A major problem for hospitals treating coronavirus is a lack of N95 respirator masks. These are the only masks that reliably protect hospital workers who are on the front line for treating coronavirus patients. It turns out that the Obama administration created the shortage. Now, thanks to Trump’s willingness to partner with, rather than destroy, businesses, 3M is coming to the rescue.

In the past couple of months, as it became apparent that coronavirus was serious, people went on mask buying binges. In societies such as Japan or Hong Kong, in which people with colds or the flu always wear masks as a courtesy to keep others from getting sick, this habit may have slowed the virus’s spread. While regular masks cannot protect people in a high-risk environment from inhaling the virus, they will diminish substantially the risk that a sick person will exhale the virus with sufficient force or viral load to make others ill.

However, people did not just buy ordinary masks; many bought N95 masks of the type needed by healthcare professionals working with the sickest, and therefore most contagious. patients. Very soon, hospitals were begging for masks from those proactive shoppers who snapped up all the supplies.

This is one shortage that should never have happened, and the blame for it rests with the Obama administration:

Back in 2005, the Bush administration published the “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” The strategy called for plans to distribute medical supplies from the national stockpile and to assist state and local efforts to handle an outbreak, but last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress that the national stockpile of N95 respirator masks was 12 million—a mere fraction of the 1.7 billion masks government scientists estimated back in 2015 would be needed in the event of a severe flu outbreak.

How did we end up with such a low stockpile? It used to be much larger. What happened to it?

Buried several paragraphs deep in the aforementioned Bloomberg story we find out that “after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”

That's right, the shortage of N95 masks can be traced back to the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009... when Barack Obama was president.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “[a]fter the swine flu epidemic in 2009, a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks [...] be replenished by the stockpile.” The Obama administration, however, did not use any of his subsequent six years in office to act on this recommendation and, sadly, the Trump administration seems to have been unaware of it.

Fortunately, there is help on the horizon. 3M tweeted that it will be producing up to 35 million N95 respirator masks and already has 500,000 on the way to those areas hardest hit by the outbreak:

In the statement accompanying the tweets, Mike Roman gives more information about 3M’s plans, which include substantial capital investments to meet the new demands. Significantly, he gives special thanks to the federal government for cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, something that makes its high production level possible:

I would also like to commend the American federal government for their expansion earlier this week of the U.S. PREP Act. This helps ensure that all N95 disposable respirators can be used in healthcare settings, and has enabled us to increase distribution to those workers beginning this weekend. We call for additional legislation to ensure all critically needed reusable respirators are equally available, which will help conserve the supply of N95s.

Trump recently said that he is, in effect, a “wartime president,” except that he’s a president fighting an invisible enemy. Consistent with the war analogy, Trump is doing precisely what helped America win World War II, by bringing the full power of American capitalism to bear against the enemy. As we wrote last week about Trump’s press conference declaring a National Emergency,

Trump also copied the WWII model for victory by having government retreat, not expand.  During WWII, the government made demands on industry; it did not regulate it.  The speakers at the press conference made clear that it was government regulation that was stifling America's ability to fight this viral war.  To fight a vicious enemy, Trump cleared the way for private sector innovation, efficiency, and patriotism.

[snip]

America's strength is her people, not her government.  Trump is mobilizing the private sector, which promises us a victory as great as that in WWII. . . .

A major problem for hospitals treating coronavirus is a lack of N95 respirator masks. These are the only masks that reliably protect hospital workers who are on the front line for treating coronavirus patients. It turns out that the Obama administration created the shortage. Now, thanks to Trump’s willingness to partner with, rather than destroy, businesses, 3M is coming to the rescue.

In the past couple of months, as it became apparent that coronavirus was serious, people went on mask buying binges. In societies such as Japan or Hong Kong, in which people with colds or the flu always wear masks as a courtesy to keep others from getting sick, this habit may have slowed the virus’s spread. While regular masks cannot protect people in a high-risk environment from inhaling the virus, they will diminish substantially the risk that a sick person will exhale the virus with sufficient force or viral load to make others ill.

However, people did not just buy ordinary masks; many bought N95 masks of the type needed by healthcare professionals working with the sickest, and therefore most contagious. patients. Very soon, hospitals were begging for masks from those proactive shoppers who snapped up all the supplies.

This is one shortage that should never have happened, and the blame for it rests with the Obama administration:

Back in 2005, the Bush administration published the “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.” The strategy called for plans to distribute medical supplies from the national stockpile and to assist state and local efforts to handle an outbreak, but last month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told Congress that the national stockpile of N95 respirator masks was 12 million—a mere fraction of the 1.7 billion masks government scientists estimated back in 2015 would be needed in the event of a severe flu outbreak.

How did we end up with such a low stockpile? It used to be much larger. What happened to it?

Buried several paragraphs deep in the aforementioned Bloomberg story we find out that “after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”

That's right, the shortage of N95 masks can be traced back to the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009... when Barack Obama was president.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “[a]fter the swine flu epidemic in 2009, a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks [...] be replenished by the stockpile.” The Obama administration, however, did not use any of his subsequent six years in office to act on this recommendation and, sadly, the Trump administration seems to have been unaware of it.

Fortunately, there is help on the horizon. 3M tweeted that it will be producing up to 35 million N95 respirator masks and already has 500,000 on the way to those areas hardest hit by the outbreak:

In the statement accompanying the tweets, Mike Roman gives more information about 3M’s plans, which include substantial capital investments to meet the new demands. Significantly, he gives special thanks to the federal government for cutting through the bureaucratic red tape, something that makes its high production level possible:

I would also like to commend the American federal government for their expansion earlier this week of the U.S. PREP Act. This helps ensure that all N95 disposable respirators can be used in healthcare settings, and has enabled us to increase distribution to those workers beginning this weekend. We call for additional legislation to ensure all critically needed reusable respirators are equally available, which will help conserve the supply of N95s.

Trump recently said that he is, in effect, a “wartime president,” except that he’s a president fighting an invisible enemy. Consistent with the war analogy, Trump is doing precisely what helped America win World War II, by bringing the full power of American capitalism to bear against the enemy. As we wrote last week about Trump’s press conference declaring a National Emergency,

Trump also copied the WWII model for victory by having government retreat, not expand.  During WWII, the government made demands on industry; it did not regulate it.  The speakers at the press conference made clear that it was government regulation that was stifling America's ability to fight this viral war.  To fight a vicious enemy, Trump cleared the way for private sector innovation, efficiency, and patriotism.

[snip]

America's strength is her people, not her government.  Trump is mobilizing the private sector, which promises us a victory as great as that in WWII. . . .